Westmont Magazine Living the Psalms
For most Americans, 9-11 will be the dividing line in 2001; for the Lammerding family it was July 5. After nine months of anticipation, my wife, Karyn Shriver Lammerding ’88, and I welcomed William Lammerding into the world. Within hours it became clear that he was not like other children. We know now that he suffers from a rare genetic disorder, mosaic trisomy 8. This means most of his cells have an extra eighth chromosome. Down syndrome is classified as trisomy 21.
For the first few months we were in the dark, daily discovering new things that didn’t work in Will’s little body. It was a disorienting, painful and scary time.
Two days after arriving home, Will stopped breathing in my arms. We quickly rushed him to the emergency room where doctors discovered his lungs and digestive system were poorly developed. Massive acid reflux further inhibited his breathing. His condition required surgery on his stomach and 10 days in intensive care. For months we had to feed him through a GI tube.
Doctors continued to uncover new things that required immediate attention: limited vision, severe hearing loss, heart defects, underdeveloped muscle mass, malfunctioning kidneys, and a laundry list of other congenital defects. We have consulted an A-Z list of 13 specialists, with nearly 80 separate doctor visits in Will’s first six months.
The same week Will was in the ICU, an endocrinologist gave us some difficult news about our eldest son, 8-year-old Chase. With the baby across the street in the hospital, Chase’s doctor delivered a tentative prognosis of Cushing syndrome with a suspected brain tumor behind his pituitary gland. As one good friend remarked, “OK, God, unnecessary roughness.” Fortunately, after a battery of tests and an MRI, Cushing and the tumor were ruled out. We’re still trying to sort out the irregularities with Chase’s hormones.
During this time we found a new affinity for the Psalms. King David described moments of confusion, anxiety, exhaustion and uncertainty — all of which aptly described many of our months. I found comfort knowing a man chosen by God to rule a nation had no reservations in crying out “Why?”(Psalm 22).
All the expected (and well-intended) platitudes, “Things happen for a reason,” and “He’ll be extra-special,” frankly rang hollow. Oddly, we found some of our most profound wisdom and encouragement from an unexpected source: the film “The Lord of the Rings.” In a pivotal scene, the meek Hobbit protagonist Frodo laments the heavy burden of his difficult and uncertain quest to rid the land of an evil ring. It’s a quest he never wished for nor relishes — a journey wrought with disappointment, pain, heartache and loss. He longs for the life of predictability and peace he left behind in his lush homeland. But Frodo’s mentor, Gandalf, tells him there is little to be gained in dwelling on what was; what matters now is how he chooses to live the life that lies before him. Knowing J.R.R. Tolkein’s Catholic faith informed his writing and worldview, I can only surmise it was God’s clever way of speaking to us.
Though these months have been difficult, they have also been extraordinary in unexpected ways. In the middle of the darkest time in our lives, we’ve been confronted with profound compassion and care from both friends and strangers. Numerous acts of grace have left an indelible mark on our family: a dear college friend flying from Minnesota, taking time away from his law practice; family simply lending a hand and ear; families in our church who coordinated two full months of meals; friends and family who cared for Chase and Chad when Will was in ICU; a mother at the kids’ school who insisted on doing our laundry; 100 men we’ve never met who gathered one morning for our family and all signed a card. Last, but certainly not least, our dear friends Mark and Elizabeth Swanson who worked tirelessly just to be there 24/7.
Our lives are forever changed by the events that surround and invade us — things we may never be able to explain. Ironically, I’m feeling more thankful than at any other point in my life. David wrote of the unexplainable joy that God provides in the midst of darkness. In the immortal words of Canadian singer-songwriter Bruce Cockburn, “I’m going to kick at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.”
Erik works at Apple Computer as senior partnership manager, and Karyn looks forward to getting back into training for another triathlon. Chase, who aspires to participate in the X-Games and play drums for U2, had a lead role in “The Nutcracker” this year. Chad, 5, loves to paint, draw, build Legos, wrestle and play soccer. The family lives in San Jose, Calif.